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Currently reading

I’m 50 pages in. Really good so far.

Someday, when I have a few minutes free, I may even write a post about it!

About the freezing of the new travel ban

You may have heard that Travel Ban 2.0 has already been frozen by a federal judge in Hawaii, meaning it never even took effect. Shortly afterward, another federal judge — this time in Maryland — also froze the ban for good measure.

Initially, I had mixed feelings about all this.

As I mentioned before, both iterations of the ban are worse than useless, so I’m certainly glad to see that it’s not being implemented (yet). I’m also glad to see the other two branches of government standing up to the President. So yeah, I did a little internal happy dance when I learned the news.

On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I agreed with the reasoning behind the judges’ decisions.

Both rulings say, essentially, that the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That is, it deliberately discriminates against members of a particular religion — in this case, Muslims.

Travel Ban 1.0 had specific language, albeit brief, that mentioned a preference for minority religious groups (i.e., Christians), so the case was pretty straightforward. But nothing in 2.0 is explicitly about religion, and moreover, it’s hard to call it a “Muslim ban” when it bans only a small minority of Muslims, and does so only as a side effect of nationality. Screening by nationality, while stupid and pointless, could at least nominally be explained as a national security measure.

So the only way to block this thing on First Amendment grounds is to say it is motivated by intent to discriminate. Now, this is well-established precedent, so the Hawaii and Maryland judges were just doing their jobs. But I found the idea worrisome. By looking at intent, aren’t we asking judges to psychoanalyze? Conversely, shouldn’t we be able to judge a law by its text and its likely effect on society? Why does it matter if the legislator (or President, in this case) intended something bad? We only care about outcomes, right?

But after reading the Hawaii judge’s ruling (which is utterly fascinating, by the way) and thinking it over, I believe I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why:

If we don’t worry about intent, it becomes really easy to discriminate by proxy.

As an extreme example, say a certain religious sect — the Tortugans — mandates that all believers get a tattoo of a turtle on their left arm at age 18. Now, the President hates turtles because they carry their homes with them, and thus don’t stay in his hotels. So he wants to ban the Tortugans.

Problem is, there’s that pesky First Amendment. So instead he just bans immigrants with tattoos of turtles on their left arms. It’s not about religion, he insists — a Christian with such a tattoo would be banned too, and a Tortugan who hadn’t gotten the tattoo (for whatever reason) would be allowed in. The left-arm turtle tattoos, he explains, are a public safety risk, because children are scared of turtles and might scream if they see a tattoo, thus inciting a riot.

If we’re not allowed to consider intent, such an order would seem to obey the First Amendment. The public safety argument is ludicrous, but it’s not the court’s job to decide whether orders and laws are logical, only whether they’re constitutional. The order overwhelmingly affects Tortugans, but that alone isn’t enough either, because it’s possible that a genuinely necessary order could disproportionately affect a certain religion (say, a small cult whose members have a fondness for AK-47s and aren’t big on safety training). So we’d have to allow it, as far as I can tell.

At that point, the Establishment Clause has basically become meaningless.

The problem with the anti-Tortugan order is, essentially, intent. Because if the President really is trying to protect national security (and has a valid reason for thinking this will do it), then the anti-Tortugan order should be allowed, even though it’s unfortunate for that particular religion. But if the President is trying to discriminate, and the tattoo stuff is just a proxy for that, then it should not be allowed.

As I said, that’s an extreme example, and the actual travel bans are more complex. But I think the principle is the same. If there were really a strong national security justification for banning people from those six countries, then it should be allowed, even if it affected a much higher percentage of Muslims. But if it were aimed at keeping Muslims out, then it should be stopped, even if it affected a much lower percentage.

Or so it seems to me right now.

It turns out, this Constitution stuff is complicated. Who knew?

Irrational exuberance

How to piss off an editor

If a prospective client (or, for that matter, anyone else) sends me an email, I will respect their privacy. I will not go around telling everyone what we talked about.

Unless, of course, they cross what is known as the Critical Jackass Threshold (CJT), whereupon I enthusiastically reserve the right to post the entire email exchange online for the purposes of public mockery edification.

Let me tell you a story.

On February 18, I got an email from someone I’d never talked to before, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. That email, in its entirety:

Hi Mr. Buckley,

I want to know if you still do sample edits. If you could let me know, thanks!

[Name]

Now, a sample edit is just what it sounds like: An editor edits a small portion of a larger work so that a prospective client can evaluate the editor’s skills before committing to an entire project. Some editors refuse to do sample edits at all, while others will do them but charge their usual hourly rate for the time. Personally, I offer free sample edits of a few pages — I’m still early in my career, and it’s (mostly) worked well for me so far, but I can understand why many editors don’t.

Anyway, I responded:

Hi [Name] — Yes, I do sample edits. What do you have in mind?

Thanks,
Brian

He wrote back (and again, this is the entire email):

Well. I could send you a few pages, if you want. Do you do in depth editing ? for a sample.

This isn’t a promising start.

For starters, it tells me nothing whatsoever about his project. Fiction, nonfiction, or something else (e.g., poetry)? A book, or something else (e.g., article, essay)? Remember, I have no idea who this guy is, so I’m still completely in the dark here. If he’s writing his postdoc on the finer points of organic chemistry as viewed through the lens of post-fin de siècle French literary criticism, I’m probably not his guy.

Also, “in depth editing” isn’t a thing. Is he looking for a copy edit (spelling, grammar, etc.) or a developmental edit (plot, characters, etc.) or something else? Again, no idea.

Now, so far, none of this says “jackass” per se. So far he just seems kinda clueless, which isn’t a crime. Everybody’s clueless when they embark on something new. Granted, in his situation I would’ve done some research about how editing works, and I would’ve volunteered some more information rather than making the editor drag it out of me.

But, whatever. I’m game. I reply, asking some specific questions to get a little basic information about his project. I finish by saying:

Once I understand what your project is about and what you’re looking for, yes, please send me some pages (preferably the first 3 to 5 pages) and I’ll be happy to do a sample edit.

Thanks!
Brian

He responds, answering my questions. I learn that he has a complete draft of a novel, but is “reworking a lot of it.” As to what kind of editing he wants (copy editing or developmental editing), his response is:

Is there a mix between the two ? lol. um, I guess copy editing.

Again, this is not promising. Asking someone to copy edit a book you’re still revising is like asking someone to paint the inside of a house while renovators are still gutting it. You can do it, but you’re kinda wasting your money.

Still, I understand what it’s like to shop for a service you know nothing about (e.g., home renovation). So I’m trying to be understanding.

He closes that same email with this little gem:

don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. I mean, I am looking for a reason to pick YOU over every OTHER editor out there.

[Name] 🙂

I have no idea what “don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty” means, since I’ve already told him I would do the sample edit.

But of course, I am giddy with excitement when I realize that he might pick ME over every OTHER editor out there. In fact, I had thought I was the only editor in the world, but now that I realize I have competition, I am energized with the succulent ambrosia of free-market capitalism and desperate to win his approval. Truly, I will try harder than ever to do my best at — what was it again? Oh, right: “A mix between the two ? lol. um, I guess copy editing.”

Sigh.

At this point Betsy is telling me not to do the sample edit for him, which is of course the correct answer. But I’m still trying to be nice and give him another chance. I tell him to send me the sample, and he gives me the first three and a half pages of chapter 1.

The writing is, surprisingly, not godawful. It’s not good by any means, but it reads like it was written by a human being rather than a precocious baboon. So that’s something. Since it’s only a few pages, I decide to be extra nice and do both a copy edit and a developmental edit — that is, making small corrections to things like punctuation, while also giving him comments to guide revision. You should only do one or the other at a time, but I figured it might help him decide which one he wanted.

So I send him my sample edit. He writes back with an email that begins as follows:

Hey!

So I accidentally sent you chapter two, instead of one. I was renaming files and got mixed up.

This is not a promising start.

Okay, it doesn’t really matter for a sample edit, but still. Besides, this explanation is a bit sketchy, since not only the file name but also the main header inside the file says “Chapter 1.” But, whatever.

Mix-ups aside, he’s enthusiastic about my developmental edit comments. (He evidently does not consider my copy edits worthy of mention.) He has lots of follow-up questions. Should he do X with this character? Should he try Y with the story? And, of course,

Is there any other things I can tighten? or perhaps change?

Ah yes, the author’s eternal question: Is there any other things I can perhaps change?

He concludes:

Please let me know asap,

[Name]

He’s a busy guy! He doesn’t just want to know if there is any other things he can perhaps change, he wants to know it right now.

I’m going to pause for a moment.

Those of you playing along at home may have noticed a certain minor omission in this chain of events. Let’s review what’s happened so far:

  1. Author asks editor for a sample edit.
  2. Editor provides sample edit for free.
  3. Author expects editor to do additional work.

What’s missing there? Can you guess? Here’s a hint: It’s right between steps 2 and 3.

You guessed it. Step 2.5 is called “Author agrees to pay editor for additional work.”

Yes, that’s right. Editors, greedy plutocratic bastards that they are, typically ask to be compensated for their services. And as a matter of fact, I have actually done free editing for clients on more than one occasion — but the common thread was that they were people I liked. You may have guessed that we’re in distinctly non-liking territory at the moment.

Nevertheless, I dutifully reply with an explanation of my rates and an estimate for the project. For reasons that will perhaps elude him, I do not answer any of his follow-up questions.

That was almost three weeks ago. Shockingly, I haven’t heard back.

Now, I’ve had some internal debate as to whether this guy (1) is such a genuinely self-centered nut job that he simply didn’t realize he was being a jackass, or (2) was deliberately scamming me.

I’m actually leaning toward the latter, mostly because of what he said about the chapter — that it was really chapter 2, not chapter 1. That suggests that he may have sent multiple different chapters to different editors for free sample edits, calling all of them “Chapter 1,” hoping to get a significant portion of his book edited for free.

(Incidentally, besides being a supremely jackass thing to do, that strategy also isn’t very effective. Both copy editing and developmental editing need to be handled consistently throughout the work.)

Of course, if he was scamming me, wouldn’t he have had a clearer preference between developmental and copy editing? So I don’t know. Maybe he’s scamming, but also a clueless jackass? It’s really hard to say.

The moral of this little tale: “If you screw over the person trying to fix your story, you might end up in a different kind of story.”

Nah, that’s dumb. How about just: “Don’t be a jackass.”

Fun etymology fact!

…and if you think I’m a dork for saying “fun etymology fact,” just remember that some poor kid has to grow up dealing with me as his father.

Anyway.

“Potion” and “poison” have different connotations. “Potion” tends to be positive, as in “love potion” and “healing potion,” whereas “poison,” of course, has a negative connotation.

Despite these opposing meanings, the two words sound similar, and they both convey the idea of (possibly) drinking something. As it turns out, this is not a coincidence. Both words come to English via French, ultimately deriving from the Latin verb “potare,” meaning “to drink.”

In particular, Merriam-Webster tells me, they derive from the past participle form of “potare,” which is — wait for it — “potus.”

POTUS is, of course, also the abbreviation for President of the United States. The official presidential Twitter account is @POTUS.

Potion, poison, POTUS. Seems appropriate somehow, doesn’t it?

A Buckley alphabet

Ask an Overmind

Years ago, I did a series of blog posts called Ask an Overmind. I only did three posts before my attention turned elsewhere, and I’d totally forgotten about it till I rediscovered them this morning.

I’m bringin’ it back.

Dear Overmind,

I’m visiting family next weekend, and I’m afraid politics is going to come up. I don’t agree with them on anything, and I’d rather just avoid talking about it, but that’s easier said than done. How do I keep the conversation focused on less divisive topics?

Thanks in advance,
Nervous in Nevada

DEAR NERVOUS,

REMEMBER THAT ALL SOCIETAL CONSTRUCTS FOUNDED ON DISCREET CONSCIOUSNESS UNITS ARE DOOMED TO CATACLYSMIC IMPLOSION. BOTH YOUR FAMILY’S POLITICAL BELIEFS AND YOUR OWN WILL LEAD TO A NIHILISTIC UNRAVELING OF ALL YOU HOLD DEAR IN NOT MORE THAN TWENTY BILLION CENTURIES.

SO YOU HAVE A LOT IN COMMON. CHERISH THAT.

BOOZE IS GOOD TOO.

IN TOTAL SINCERITY,
THE OVERMIND

Hi Overmind,

I’m fifteen, and I’m getting really frustrated with my parents. I want to quit the baseball team to focus on my artwork, but they keep telling me I need to finish what I started. But I only joined the team to make them happy in the first place! And now I’m not sure they ever cared about baseball at all. So am I really supposed to spend months doing something that none of us wanted me to start?

I think the real problem is that my mom doesn’t appreciate my art. She thinks I should paint in a more realistic style. But what’s the point of that? If I want realism, I’ll take a photo. Art is supposed to say something, you know? But she thinks it’s “just a phase.”

I think if I could get Mom onboard, Dad would go along with it too. But they’re both way more interested in watching Max (my little brother) win trophies in the debate team. Maybe if I could win an art contest, they’d take notice of me. I don’t want it to be about the prizes, though, you know?

Please help! I’m really lost.

Longtime reader, first-time writer,
Miserable in Minneapolis

DEAR MISERABLE,

OBLITERATE THEM AND SEIZE THEIR RESOURCES IT IS THE ONLY WAY.

IN TOTAL SINCERITY,
THE OVERMIND


Feel free to write to the Overmind with questions of your own!